I receive letters every day from moms who worry about how to parent their angry child. From the toddlers who yell “no!” to children who argue to tweens with an attitude, you are telling me that you need parenting ideas. When should you worry? How much anger is a normal part of child development? Is there a better way to teach anger management to children? An angry child makes most adults feel uncomfortable, and makes parents feel helpless – and sometimes angry themselves.
Recently I was standing in line at the store, listening to two very different boys behind me. They both were upset at being denied the candy they had asked for. One boy began to cry, and soon his wails seemed to fill the store and echo inside my ears. The other boy tried to argue his mother into changing her mind. When that wasn’t effective, he began to kick the shopping cart. Just a little at first, but he was obviously an angry child. Soon his kicks grew strong enough to send the cart crashing into a person standing behind him as he yelled to his mother, “You never get me anything I want!”
Normal child development
Anger is a normal part of every developmental stage. The angry toddler yells “no!” because he doesn’t want to take a nap. The angry child argues about what to watch on television. The angry tween is just plain mad that they’re not old enough to have a social media site. These are all completely normal parts of growing up that every child goes through. Those anger moments allow them to define who they are, what they want, and their place in their family. Handled carefully, those anger moments also give them wonderful opportunities to learn better communication skills and self control. But sometimes, that anger goes too far.
When your toddler’s tantrums are disrupting your entire family’s life, you may want to find a different method of responding. When your angry child seems to spiral into a complete meltdown several times a week, you may want to worry. Any time your angry child‘s behavior is destructive or disruptive, its time to take a close look at what is going on.
There are three main reasons you may have an angry child.
- They don’t feel heard
- They feel rushed
- They feel overwhelmed
When you understand what is behind their feelings, there are a few things you can do.
Anger management for your angry child
First of all, congratulate yourself for recognizing that your child has anger issues. Spend some time carefully evaluating your angry child’s experience based on the 1,2,3 above. Jot down what you discover and your best guess as to what is going on with him or her.
Take a moment to write down how you normally respond to your angry child. Do you get frustrated? Ignore them? Spank them? Based in part on how you were parented and the choices you’ve made on how to parent this child, you may be surprised at what you discover when you look closely. The most important thing to remember when dealing with an angry child of any age is to speak slowly and quietly, and try to have a consistent response.
Lets get practical. Here are solutions that work. Which ones will you try? Which ones have you already successfully used? Which ones did I miss? If you think these don’t have much to do with anger management, think again. Practicing these parenting strategies will often interrupt the spiral of your angry child’s behavior and give them a reason not to be angry. Then you will have created an atmosphere where your child feels secure.
- Especially with young children, schedule your important phone calls while they’re sleeping or otherwise completely occupied. If you must spend time on the phone and your child starts getting angry to get your attention, make sure you really listen to him as soon as you’re off the phone.
- When you find yourself yelling, confronting, or otherwise getting angry yourself at your angry child, walk away.
- You can securely hold an out-of-control child during a tantrum while quietly saying, I’m going to hold you til you’re done. This is something I practiced with my youngest son well into his tweens, and he still remembers the experience as the only way for him to calm down and regain control of himself.
- While you’re responsible for making healthy and balanced meals, your child can still have tons of choices. Bananas or oranges? Macaroni or potatoes? Juice or milk?
- Most moms I talk with want their children to look a certain way- especially when they go ‘out in public’. But it can’t hurt to give your child a whole lot of leeway when it comes to choosing what they wear. It can be a game, an adventure, a wonderful means of self-expression.
- Are mornings a nightmare at your house? Get up an hour earlier. Feel like you’re not a morning person? How do you think your child feels? You cannot expect your angry child to find healthy ways of expressing himself if you’re showing him your own “prickly” behavior.
- Watch your response. It takes two to argue, and if you disengage the battle is over.
- Try to redirect to something else if your ‘no’ is met with anger. If that doesn’t work, smile, say, You can be mad if you need to be, but my answer is still the same, then walk away. It will be worth a few sessions of your child expressing his full-out anger for him to become convinced you mean what you say and can’t be manipulated.
- Make sure your child is getting adequate physical activity.
- Turn off the television.
- If your child tries to hit you, don’t hit back. Hold his hands and really listen to what is going on.
- Ask your child what he’s feeling, and really listen to his response. Sometimes children are actually feeling tired, or afraid, and don’t know how to express it.
Have you noticed that most of these anger management strategies for children are actually things for you to practice? You may think your child is the problem, but you are the solution. There is always hope for your angry child.